People give a number of reasons for opposing war with Iraq: We should not go to war without the United Nations’ backing. We need to wait longer for the weapons inspectors to finish their job. The Bush administration has not made a strong enough case against Saddam Hussein.
None of these arguments really gets at the reasons I am opposed to the war. Even if the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously for war, even if Saddam kicked out the weapons inspectors and broke off negotiations, even if there were absolute proof the Iraqis were building a nuclear bomb and were going to hand it over to Osama bin Laden himself – even then, I would be against this war.
War cannot be justified by meeting certain criteria. God calls us to seek nonviolent responses to even the most depraved and violent actions of others. Many say such absolute opposition to war is naive, irrelevant or even dangerous. But I contend such an approach is faithful. It is biblical. It is true to the calling of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Jesus said, “Don’t resist an evil person.” The word “resist” had a legal sense in Jesus’ time. It meant to assert one’s legal rights. If someone was injured, that person had the right to inflict a similar harm on the one who committed the injury. Jesus said his followers should be willing to give up this right.
This should not be understood as passive surrender. Jesus is not calling us to be doormats. Theologian Walter Wink argues that Jesus’ statement is misinterpreted. It should not read, “Do not resist an evildoer,” but “Do not resist by evil means.”
Jesus then clarifies what he means with several examples. The first is “turning the other cheek.” Jesus specifies the right cheek. If a right-handed person strikes someone on the right cheek, he or she has to use the back of the hand. In Jesus’ time, to use the back of the hand was considered an insult. It’s the sort of blow a master would deliver to a slave.
To turn the left cheek, then, is a way of giving up one’s legal right to retaliation. But it is not passive acceptance of the slap. It challenges the way the one who slaps looks at the one who has been slapped. To continue the assault, he would have to slap again with an open hand, which would imply a certain equality between the two of them. He has two options: to treat the victim as more of an equal, or to stop the beating. The simple, nonviolent action of turning the other cheek forces the aggressor to evaluate his actions and make a choice.
Jesus does not call us to passively accept what happens to us and to others. The way of peace is a way of action. We often refer to it as “pacifism.” This is too often confused with “passivism,” meaning passive character or behavior. Jesus taught and modeled neither of these.
Jesus’ teachings are more than words. They are reflected in the actions he took, the life he lived and the person he was. The great divide that opened when Adam and Eve disobeyed God was closed when Jesus was obedient. Reconciliation between God and humanity became possible. Through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we have been reconciled to God.
We practice peace because it is the way modeled for us by God in Christ, not because it always makes the most sense logically. Yet, many times, nonviolence will bring about a better and more lasting resolution than will violence. There are plenty of examples, generally ignored by policy makers and world leaders, where nonviolent resistance has proven more effective than war in producing social change. If we were to invest a fraction of the time, effort and resources in seeking nonviolent solutions that we have in the military, we would have much more constructive means of responding to Saddam Hussein.
But effectiveness is not the rule to judge choices between peace and violence. The ultimate measure is faithfulness. Because God has been faithful to us in seeking peaceful reconciliation with the world, we must be faithful to God by seeking peaceful reconciliation within the world.
The life Christ calls us to is not always easy. God’s ways may not always make sense to us. But with Jesus as our model and the words of Scripture as our guide, we can be faithful witnesses in bringing God’s vision of peace into our violent world.
Used by permission from Mennonite Weekly Review.